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Damiyne Durham Rises to Basketball Greatness Out of Small-Town Oakwood

Oakwood guard/forward Damiyne Durham is the No. 16-ranked recruit in Texas by Rivals.com. He committed to Baylor in August. (Christopher R. Vinn, ETSN.fm)

OAKWOOD — While the photographer readies his lights for the photo shoot, Damiyne Durham takes a few minutes to practice his 3-point shooting.

One, two, three, four fall in. Then another. Then five more.

After what would have been his 11th straight made 3-pointer rims out, Durham lets out a disgruntled “Gah!”

Even when he’s 30 minutes removed from a Wednesday night football practice, Durham expects to make every shot on the court.

Inside this tiny Sammy Lipsey Gymnasium, in the midst of this tiny town of about 400 outside Palestine, the name Damiyne Durham is one of practically celebrity status.

“He’s definitely famous in this town,” Oakwood basketball coach Ronnie Dunn said.

Baylor commit Damiyne Durham and the Oakwood Panthers are ranked No. 2 in the preseason Texas Association of Basketball Coaches Class A Division II poll. (Christopher Vinn, ETSN.fm)

Over the past year, Durham’s name has reached far and wide in the college basketball community. Memphis was the first Division I program to call with a full scholarship offer, and Durham doesn’t forget that day.

“They called coach and he told me, and I just told everybody in the school,” Durham said. “I was so happy. That’s when I really realized I was a special player.”

Then more schools called. Texas, Texas A&M, Baylor, Marquette, Michigan and a half-dozen more. Coaches of some of the biggest college basketball programs in the nation wanted one of Oakwood’s 2014 graduating class of 13 to play for them.

Ultimately, he chose to stay close to home and committed to Baylor in August.

Dunn put it simply: “He’s a once-in-lifetime player.”

“He’s an amazing player, a great athlete … the best I’ve ever seen, especially at a 1A school,” Dunn added. “Players like Damiyne don’t come very often at smaller schools like this. Coaches make players, yes, but players also make coaches. To be successful you’ve got to have the athletes. I don’t take credit for anything Damiyne has done. He’s done all this and all the work himself.”

“Small” doesn’t quite explain it. Durham plays quarterback on Oakwood’s six-man football team and leads a basketball team that had six players all of 2012-13.

Dunn said Durham left the floor twice all season as a junior, and that was when Oakwood had big leads against district opponents who couldn’t keep up with Durham and Co.

Dunn has coached Durham on the Oakwood boys team since his sophomore year, but Dunn saw him play as a freshman while coaching the girls team. It didn’t take long to realize he was watching a special kind of player who would carry a program on his back.

The 6-foot-5 Durham averaged 27.6 points and 8.5 rebounds per game as a junior.

He’s just a natural scorer. He can score from anywhere on the floor,” Dunn said. “He can handle the basketball like a 5-10 guard and he can shoot from anywhere on the court or dunk in your face if he wants to. Anything anyone can do on the court, he can do it.”

Durham knows he’s a special kind of player. He knows how rare it is for East Texas to produce such a high-caliber player. The last area basketball player this heavily sought-after was Nacogdoches graduate and former No. 1 recruit in Texas Damion James, who graduated in 2006 and played at Texas and has played in a handful of NBA games.

But none of that matters to Durham.

“I just play basketball. I have one goal: get to the state championship,” he said.

Oakwood lost to Douglass 69-58 in the regional finals last season, and Durham’s Panthers saw their district rivals reach the state championship game. With four starters back, more than two players available on the bench and Durham now a senior, this is where his load gets even heavier.

“I just have to lead my team,” Durham said. “We’re gonna do it this year.”

(Christopher Vinn, ETSN.fm)

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